Sports Fans Claim Big Victory on NFL Blackouts
Last week, the Federal Communications Commission announced it was moving toward ending NFL blackout rules—a move that the Sports Fans Coalition has been pushing for since 2011. Broadcasters, however, have raised concerns over the change.
It doesn’t happen so often these days, but local markets still occasionally feel the sting of the local blackout—an FCC-mandated rule on sports games that keeps them off the air in televisions around the area.
One group, the Sports Fans Coalition, has pushed for changes on this front in particular—along with a few others, such as working to eliminate the nonprofit status of many professional sports leagues and fighting to end college football’s bowl system in favor of a playoff—and it’s claiming victory this week after a top FCC official proposed ending the blackout. More details below:
About the rule: For the past four decades, a blackout rule on NFL games, which kicks in if the game isn’t sold out within 72 hours of an event in the team’s home market, has been a driver for fans to go to games in the NFL or other leagues. In one of her last moves as acting FCC chairwoman, Mignon Clyburn proposed moving away from the rule. “Changes in the marketplace have raised questions about whether these rules are still in the public interest, particularly at a time when high ticket prices and the economy make it difficult for many sports fans to attend games,” she wrote, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Sports fans back move: In a blog post about the move, the Sports Fans Coalition called the move a successful example of grassroots advocacy driven by “lots of shoe leather worn off in the halls of the FCC by your board of directors” over a two-year period. “If you’ve ever been in the stands and caught a home run ball, you know how we feel. For the first time in a long, long time, sports fans are being heard in Washington, D.C.,” Chairman David Goodfriend said of the FCC’s move. Goodfriend, a former Clinton administration aide, was a lobbyist for DISH Network before taking on his current role, the Times notes.
Broadcasters skeptical: The National Association of Broadcasters, meanwhile, has called foul on the move, suggesting that while it dislikes blackouts, the move could hasten the rise of pay-TV platforms for sports games. “Sports blackouts are exceedingly rare, and NAB dislikes these disruptions as much as our viewers,” NAB Executive Vice President of Communications Dennis Wharton said in a statement. “However, we’re concerned that today’s proposal may hasten the migration of sports to pay-TV platforms, and will disadvantage the growing number of people who rely on free, over-the-air television as their primary source for sports.”
NAB’s point does have some validity: While the FCC’s move would no longer officially sanction such blackouts, the NFL could still work directly with broadcasters to black out games.